Ariel Bradley is an American citizen born near Chattanooga, Tennessee. She grew up in poverty, and was homeschooled by her mother, where she received a fundamentalist Christian education. As Ariel got older, she became embarrassed of her mother’s evangelism, leading to a strained relationship between the two.
When she was around 15 years old, Ariel ran away from home. For the next ten years, she searched for stability, moving from place to place, job to job, and religion to religion. She also moved from relationship to relationship, and friends described her as defining her identity in relation to the man she was interested in at the time.
In 2010, Ariel found a job at a restaurant owned by a Palestinian man, where she met and fell in love with a young Syrian student who sparked her interest in Islam. After she was rejected by him, friends say Ariel’s personality changed. She started isolating herself. She spent time researching Islam, dressed more modestly, and in 2011 she converted and became a very strict Muslim. She met her husband, an Iraqi living in Sweden, while searching on Muslim matrimony websites. After marrying, she continued to become more conservative; she began wearing the abaya, stopped listening to music, and stopped talking to men outside of her family.
Ariel had two children with her husband, and soon deleted her Facebook and purged her social media presence. She has now moved to ISIS-controlled Syria with her husband and children, where her husband is an ISIS fighter and she has claimed support of ISIS activity.
Ariel’s friends believe she has been brainwashed, and struggle with their sense of loss. Although they do not know exactly why Ariel radicalized, they believe it was because of “spiritual desperation,” saying that Ariel was always looking for some way to define herself, and found an identity in ISIS.